Mina Loy was an English-born writer, artist and actor whose modernist style was much admired by contemporaries such as Gertrude Stein, William Carlos Williams and Ezra Pound. She was part of the “first modernist set” and received greater recognition for her poetry after her death than when she was alive. She led a bohemian lifestyle and her direct and explicit writings about subjects such as child birth and sexuality seem, in retrospect, to have belonged to another time. She railed against the domination of men over women, both in society as well as in their personal relationships, and she was never afraid to criticise her fellow poets if their views were opposed to her own.
Mina was born in December 1882 in London and her full name then was Mina Gertrude Löwry. Her mother was English and her father a Hungarian Jew. Her education included a period at art school in Munich, where she went aged 17. She was much influenced by the impressionist painters and her work was of a good enough standard to be included at a prestigious art exhibition in Paris, in 1905. She spent a number of years amongst the art elite of Paris until deciding to move to the United States in 1916. With her Jewish roots it seemed to be the safe thing to do.
In addition to her painting she had already written enough poetry to have a “reputation” even before alighting on American shores. She certainly ruffled a few feathers with the poet Marianne Moore finding her company “uncomfortable” and another poet, Amy Lowell, refusing to submit work to a periodical called “Others”. Loy had submitted the racy Love Songs to that publication, provoking critical comments such as:
Here is one of her poems from that time, called Love Songs. It’s not hard to see why readers in the early 20th century reacted the way that they did:
Others, though, welcomed this “new woman” on the scene and she was much praised by the New York Dada group of artists and, as mentioned above, by poets Williams and Pound. In fact, in 1926, Ezra Pound wrote to Marianne Moore:
Despite such praise Loy had found it a struggle to establish herself as an equal to other modernist poets. Much of her work appeared in publications such as “Camera Work” (Aphorisms in Futurism) and “Trend” published a particularly controversial piece called Parturition which was an extremely graphic portrayal of childbirth. Before arriving in America she had begun the collection Love Songs and, as they developed, she renamed it Songs to Joannes. Readers found the reading of poems that included erotic imagery and uncensored descriptions of bodily functions to be a shocking experience.
Perhaps discouraged by the reaction to her written words she developed the artistic side of her talents over the next few decades. She painted with oils and sculpted unusual shapes made up of articles that the people of Manhattan had thrown away. She withdrew more and more from society and showed little interest in improving, or even recovering, her reputation as a writer and artist. Work started many years before remained unfinished.
Mina Loy died in September 1966 in Colorado. She was 83 years old.